Buried Secrets: America’s Indian Boarding Schools Part 1

Buried Secrets: America’s Indian Boarding Schools Part 1

By The Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX

In a two-part collaboration with ICT (formerly Indian Country Today), we expose the painful legacy of boarding schools for Native children.  

These schools were part of a federal program designed to destroy Native culture and spirituality, with the stated goal to “kill the Indian and save the man.” ICT reporter Mary Annette Pember, a citizen of the Red Cliff Band of Ojibwe, explores the role the Catholic Church played in creating U.S. policy toward Native people and takes us to the Red Cloud Indian School on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Under pressure from the community, the school has launched a truth and healing program and is helping to reintroduce traditional culture to its students. 

Next, Pember visits 89-year-old boarding school survivor Basil Brave Heart, who was sent to the Red Cloud School in the 1930s. He vividly remembers being traumatized by the experience and says many of his schoolmates suffered for the rest of their lives. We also hear from Dr. Donald Warne from Johns Hopkins University, a citizen of the Oglala Lakota tribe who studies how the trauma of boarding schools is passed down through the generations.

We close with what is perhaps the most sensitive part of the Red Cloud School’s search for the truth about its past: the hunt for students who may have died at the school and were buried in unmarked graves. The school has brought in ground-penetrating radar to examine selected parts of the campus, but for some residents, that effort is falling short. They want the entire campus scanned for potential graves. 

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